There are more than two dozen detectives reportedly working to solve the killings of two young international travellers on the Alaska Highway last week, and police may have a lead on a possible suspect.
Mounties have released few details about the shootings of Australian Lucas Fowler, 23, and his American girlfriend Chynna Deese, 24, on the side of the highway near Liard Hot Springs sometime on July 14 or 15. But Australian media outlets have flown in to the remote part of Northeast B.C., digging up some key pieces of information from their sources as well as witnesses in the area.
Australia's Nine News reports that there are around 30 detectives working the case and looking for their killer. It also reports that one of the last people to see them alive saw them in a strange confrontation with a bearded man.
Fowler and Deese had just started a road trip to visit some of Canada's parks, and their van had broken down around 20 kilometres south of the hot springs on the afternoon of Sunday, July 14. Some witnesses say they last saw them happy and sharing a meal, confident about how to fix their van.
Alandra Hull told Nine News she saw the couple that evening talking with a bearded man who was standing in the middle of the road. The man was staring at them with his arms open, and the couple looked bothered.
“He looked frustrated or something,” Hull said.
Hull has spoken with police and has been asked to help a sketch artist develop a portrait of the man, according to Nine News. Investigators continue to search for any surveillance video they can from businesses along the highway to help establish a timeline of their deaths.
'Vivid in my mind'
Fowler and Deese were found around 7 a.m. on Monday, July 15. Trevor Pierre, a medic, told Nine News he found them in the ditch near their van, about five metres apart. One of the van's back windows had been smashed, and its back doors were left open.
"I don't know how anybody could live with themselves after doing what I saw," Pierre said. “You see this young, beautiful lady laying there … that’s vivid into my mind."
On Sunday, RCMP said it couldn’t provide specifics on the number investigators working the case, but said the investigation remains a priority.
“The investigative team has access to any and all specialized units and support as the investigation progresses, from throughout the province and outside should that be necessary,” Sgt. Janelle Shoihet said.
The number of investigators and support staff working a case fluctuates based on needs, Shoihet added. Investigators are continuing to speak with witnesses, she said.
On Friday, Shoihet told reporters that it’s unclear whether the couple was targeted, or were victims of a crime of opportunity. Lower Mainland investigators are helping officers from the Northern Rockies RCMP detachment and the North District Major Crimes Unit. More investigative resources will be brought in if needed, Shoihet said.
"We are working with our partners internationally in order to advance this as best as we can,” Shoihet said.
Worked at Hudson's Hope ranch
Fowler and Deese met in Croatia in 2017, and spent their time travelling through Europe, Central America, and Asia. They were in Canada to spend time working on a cattle ranch and visiting the country's iconic national parks.
Fowler’s family has arrived in Canada along with two Australian homicide detectives who are acting as liaisons. Nine News reports that Deese's family will not be travelling to Canada at this time.
"We are crushed," said Fowler's father Stephen, a chief inspector with the New South Wales police department.
CBC reported that Fowler had been working at a ranch in Hudson’s Hope since February. He left the ranch with Deese on the Saturday for their trip north.
"He loved animals," Erika Weder told CBC News.
"He wanted to get more experience with animals, learn about ranching in Canada in general, just to experience the West. That was one of his dreams."
Fowler planned to return to the ranch at the end of July to continue working through the summer.
"How can you react? It's a shock, of course," Weder told CBC. "You hear about things like that in movies and all of a sudden it's someone you know."
Deese was a graduate of Appalachian State University in North Carolina, with degrees in business and psychology. On her Couchsurfing page, she wrote she was "traveling the world and looking to meet new people and experience new places from a local's point of view."
Nine News is just one of the international news outlets to travel to the region to cover this story. Reporters from News Corp Australia arrived in Fort St. John Sunday and are travelling up the highway today.
Police are looking to speak with anyone who may have seen Fowler or Deese between 4 p.m. on Sunday, July 14, and 8 a.m. on Monday, July 15.
Anyone with information is asked to contact the Northern Rockies RCMP at 250-774-2700 or Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477.
Email Managing Editor Matt Preprost at firstname.lastname@example.org.